Real Conversation between an unnamed friend and myself:
Her: What did you do today?
Me: I worked on a letter to my sister.
Her, in a confused tone : Can’t you all just email?
Me: Uh, no. That’s not the same.
Doh! Of course we could email, but that is irrelevant here. My sister and I write letters to one another. That is what we do. In intimate communication the object is not always the shortest line between two points. The process of choosing and forming strings of words into thoughts and then putting those on paper is an intellectual as well as a tactile pleasure. In today’s world, receiving a hand written letter is as rare as seeing a horse and carriage driving down one’s street. We like to do our part to keep this all but forgotten art alive.
For my sister and me, if I may be so bold, one function of our letter writing practice is to try to recreate being together. Our physical time together is a sort of stream of consciousness. We may be in her kitchen washing dishes, and one of us will say, ” And about that food coop,” and the other will know what she means though we haven’t actually spoken about the coop since yesterday. Later, we can be in the same room reading, and one of us will look up and say,”Huh. Listen to this. These people went to tea and ate beans on toast!” The other will nod, and return to her own reading without missing a beat.
I know you’re marveling at our heady, rich, vibrant repartee. Well, words can’t convey everything. Suffice it to say that when we are together we are attuned, all of a piece. And when I receive a letter from my sister it too is all of a piece. It is a running narrative of however many days it may take her to write the letter. We intersperse our daily routines with reviews of what we are reading, what our families are doing and with our interior lives.
For several years we wrote our letters as though we were living in the times of whatever literary characters we were exploring. This could mean we would start a letter with:
Dearest Genevra ( We used names more appropriate to the fiction we were reading)
I take pen in hand, fervently begging your forgiveness for the fearful delay in responding to your last missive. I daresay I fairly tremble to recount, though upon my honor I must, as required by my obligations as a God fearing woman, the travails we have endured here at Pilgrimage House, brought upon us by who knows what inhuman scourge. Even now as I write my dear Genevra, grey winds cause the fallen leaves to dance in what appears to be an evil announcement that here, within these walls, lies the plague known as streptococcus.
Or, if reading Barbara Pym, one of our favorites:
I hope this finds you in good health. Today was a day like most others. I lit the gas ring this morning to brew some tea before leaving for the office. As I nibbled on my burnt toast, I noticed, too late, that I had a ladder in my stockings. Lacking bus fare I walked all the blocks to work, but as I had my umbrella scarcely got too wet. One of my office mates, Hiram, was under the weather and blew his nose all morning into a large white handkerchief. I believe his mother launders them for him. At the lunch hour I stopped at a nearby cafeteria for a bowl of tomato soup before dropping a few letters in the post. After work I dropped in St Augustus of the Fields for evensong; there were only five of us present including the vicar.
And so on. When events render us unable to be quite so playful, we just launch into the fascinating stuff of our lives. For my part, I just get out paper and begin to write whatever is in my mind. Sometimes I add a little illustration, maybe a stick figure of myself getting myself into some sort of jam such as dumping a plate of food on a stranger at a restaurant.Once I begin to write I go on and on until I have said everything I know: where I’ve been, what I’ve cooked, what I’ve read, where I’m going. And she’s going to love every single word!
Neither of us uses fancy stationery. I prefer a legal pad because my writing is large. Ellen uses paper recycled from her husband’s job at a hospital so the backs of her pages are often printed with diagrams of a human body. But we work around that. Since we write letters we don’t talk much on the phone; we can’t give away what we may have already written. If I see something she posts on facebook, that’s fine, but it doesn’t count because it was not personally directed to me.
We wait weeks for our letters, sometimes patiently, some times not. We usually let one another know that “the eagle has flown” so we know to be on the lookout for a thick, fat letter. Oh, and the sublime pleasure of opening that envelope, of running my hands over the pages of her distinctive
scrawl handwriting I would know anywhere! Usually her letters are written in several colors of ink, according to what she had handy to use while waiting for her daughter at volleyball practice, or before her graduate class met. We number our pages, which are never fewer than twenty.
At the end I feel I have made the rounds of her life with her, which I suppose is the next best thing to being there. For a day or two after I receive her letter I ruminate over whatever subjects she has broached, so that I can respond to them thoughtfully. Then the next chance I get I find a legal pad or notebook paper and begin writing back; I know she’ll be expecting my reply. I guess I had best get started right now; it’s my turn!
How amazing and wonderful. The two of you must share so much even though separated by distance. Mindful, I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything akin to a 20 page letter or read one either. Do you keep them all as well? You could no doubt write a family novel from the detailed history they must contain.
That is a very good question. I stack her letters and move them around to whatever place I am stacking things at the moment. I don’t know what she does with my letters; I guess I should ask! Thanks for the comment!
This is so perfectly written. Your love of letters is alive and well in your daughter. She is the only person on the planet who sends me real mail.
Thank you my darling!
I am so impressed that you two still write letters to each other and I can only hope that her glee rivals yours that I witness when you discover an “Eagle has landed.”
My letters seem to suit her just fine. We both say our letters are not very exciting, but we both get excited when we receive one!
I love this practice.
I do too, and especially enjoy reading old letters. They are like finding something at an archeological dig!
What a wonderful thing! I love letters too, but it’s been a few years since I actually received one. I wish more people sent letters.
Maybe you could one send one to someone, and they would return it?
Hmm…I can definitely try that. Let’s see how some of my friends respond to that!
Yippity yip! An eagle is coming my way!
I would say it is still in the preplanning stage, but yes, it will be coming!
Yes, as soon as I compose it!
I marvel at the intimacy of your relationship! And such time and energy is spent communicating – you are an example of what sibling relationships could be. Are you twins?
No, she is 4 years younger than I am.Thanks for the comment.
But we have been accused of being twins many a time 🙂
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You two are such an inspiration, and I love you so much! I remember a letter Ellen wrote to me once on the back of some wrapping paper. It was awesome. May many happy eagles come your way! And may your lodgings always be well appointed!
And may the scope of my eagle sending expand your way!
And may my eagle sending increase in your direction!
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I love to reread letters too. I also like rereading these blog posts in between eagles. love, Genevra
I had a friend in college once, who wrote in the wonderous manner and extent you have put forth before us. I pratically salivated when her letters were delivered. Like you, she preferred yellow legal sized.
So with a love of writting, do you put your blog posts to paper before committing them to electrons?
No, I do not! I’m usually eager to get a post out, so I just start typing and see what happens!
Hi Mindful, I’ve just nominated you for a WordPress Sunshine Award…..You are my sunshine my only sunshine…..I do love your blog and all your feedback. I want you to know how much you’re appreciated. Many thanks.
Thank you very much kidazzlelnk! It may be some time before I can do this as I am just emerging from the NaNo month. If yu need to pass it along to someone who can act more quickly, I certainly understand. In any case, I am very flattered; you are too kind!
You are most welcome Mindful. I would not dream of passing your award on to someone else. I took quite a while to respond myself so that’s no problem. Hope you’ve had a very productive month of writing.
Oh I forgot to add that the post is at: http://kidazzleink.com/author/kidazzleink/